Author Interview with Rich Smauels
Stephanie: Hello Rich! Thank you for chatting with me today and congrats on the B.R.A.G. Medallion. Please tell me a little about your book, “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain.”
Rich: “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain,” is the story of 13 year-old Alexander and his outrageous (and unfounded) fears about everyday life in middle school. He sees danger everywhere – and bullies around every corner. He thinks of himself as “prey in a sea of predators.” He even wrote a smartphone app, BullyTrack, to share his bully-avoiding skills with other kids. Though his fears are entirely in his imagination, they spiral out of control, and he’s convinced an evil bully plot is unfolding. He sets up what he imagines to be a huge public showdown with a boy he perceives to be his arch-enemy. Alexander thinks he’s on the way to a great victory, but the reality is something else.
Stephanie: Bullying is a constant problem in our children’s schools and your premise is really interesting and different from other books I have read on bullying. Alexander’s fears and anxiety of being bullied has made him paranoid it seems. Please tell me about his strengths and weaknesses.
Rich: Alexander is a good kid at heart. He appreciates his friends, and he can be compassionate. His friends would say that he’s funny and clever. Most people around him would think of him as likeable, but he doesn’t understand that at first.
On the other hand, he can also be judgmental, tending to categorize those around him unfairly, often based on little more than their looks. He can be stubborn, and tends to first look for the worst in people.
Creating a protagonist that was at once engaging and borderline obsessive wasn’t easy—but I’m told—particularly by younger readers—that this is what makes him authentic. He wants to be the hero, but he discovers that it’s not always easy to do the right thing. His friends see the best in him, and are loyal to him even when he makes mistakes.
Stephanie: Having a child I middle school, I hear and see what is going on every day at my child’s school and can’t believe some of the things that goes on…..and what kids are so focused on and how it effects the people around them. Including themselves on a daily basis. Middle school is tough and to add to that, the drama can affect their education. Does your book explore how a kid can avoid bullying and help them to make the right decisions?
Rich: Alexander’s greatest problem isn’t bullying, or other kids. It’s himself. His perception of assumed danger grows into fears that control his relationships with friends and classmates. He’s so convinced that he’s a victim that he begins treating nearly everyone else as an enemy. Without being aware of it, he becomes exactly what he believes he’s fighting: a bully.
Kids take away from the book a sense of just how prejudice and fear can control our lives and actions. Alexander’s assumptions about the world around him begin to impact even his closest friends.
Stephanie: This question is pretty obvious but I will ask it all the same…..what was your reason for writing this and have you written or will write any other books on this subject?
Rich: I thought this was a worthwhile twist on the bullying genre. Alexander’s problem isn’t bullying or being a bully – it’s his lack of self-confidence.
I’m excited to be putting the finishing touches on a follow-up to this book, which continues Alexander’s ongoing efforts to feel comfortable in his own skin. I think it’s going to be a lot of fun, and at the same time, emphasize the importance of developing a positive self-image. (by the way, I have an email list for those interested in following Alexander’s saga: http://eepurl.com/E07dv )
Stephanie: Were there any challenges with writing this story?
Rich: I’m told that one of the most entertaining aspects of the book is the opportunity to follow Alexander’s misguided logic. All of his actions make perfect sense to Alexander, but they’re all based on his skewed perception of the world around him. At thirteen, we make our way through the world with a fairly intricate belief system—however imperfect it might be. Maintaining that perspective was the greatest challenge I had, but it was also the key to the humor and heart of Alexander’s story.
Stephanie: Who designed your book cover?
Rich: Steven Novak provides quality, affordable cover design for many independent authors. He came recommended from another author, and took my rough concept and worked with me to create something I think is really special.
Stephanie: What do you think about the self-publishing industry?
Rich: I’m still trying to get my bearings as a self-publisher. There’s definitely a learning curve, especially in learning how to properly market a book. In theory, the self-publishing industry—and internet-based entrepreneurship in general—make it possible for all of us to directly connect with our intended audience.
In practice, determining the best way to market to that intended audience still takes a great deal of trial and error. Contemporary marketing, especially in the self-publishing industry, is in constant flux. It’s a struggle to put it into practice. A good friend described marketing my book as a “slow burn;” it’s going to take time, but eventually, if I have a good product, it will take off.
Stephanie: I noticed in your bio you have won a few awards and have been recognized for your screen plays. Can you tell me a little about that?
Rich: I work professionally as a producer of non-fiction video—documentaries, corporate videos and the like. I’ve won numerous awards at film festivals, and at the Los Angeles area Emmy Awards. My first Emmy, in fact, was for “Children and Youth Programming,” for a video I produced promoting youth involvement in the electoral process.
“My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain” actually began as a screenplay a decade ago. It won “Best Comedy” at the International Family Film Festival in Los Angeles. It was quite well received, and I was gratified by the award and the reaction to several public readings. Though I never sold the screenplay in that original form, the characters always stuck with me. The book is a much more evolved and nuanced, but the basic concept remains the same.
Stephanie: How has your life defined you as a writer?
Rich: I first began to think of myself as a writer at nine years old. Though this is my first novel, I’ve been writing short stories and screenplays all my life. Most of what I’d done professionally as a video producer and editor relates directly to my storytelling skills. At the same time, my experience in visual media, and having the opportunity to see how audiences respond to my work, taught me some valuable lessons about the process of creating for an audience. My love of storytelling has always been the guiding factor in everything I’ve done professionally, and everything I’ve taught in youth workshops I’ve had the honor to lead over the years.
Stephanie: Where is your book available?
Rich: My book is available in ebook and paperback worldwide through all of the popular channels: Amazon, iBooks, Barnes and Noble/Nook, and many of the less-popular channels, too. It’s beginning to appear in libraries across the country.
Stephanie: How did you discover indieBRAG?
Rich: I discovered IndieBRAG through my association with BookBaby. I’m trying to absorb and pursue all the opportunities I can discover to help promote my book and my future work. This seemed like a good fit. The fact that it’s a reader-curated program was particularly attractive.
Stephanie: Now on a lighter note. Tell me about what you like to read and who your influences are.
Rich: I have pretty eclectic interests. I enjoy great fiction of course, sometimes in the genre in which I’m writing, but not exclusively. I also enjoy well-written historical biographies and historical novels, thrillers and science fiction.
My influences/inspirations include Charles Dickens, whom I’ve always admired for his dedication to social consciousness; Mark Twain, the great master of accessible, character driven American literature, and Jean Shepherd, American humorist best known today for writing and narrating “A Christmas Story,” but also a writer and a massively popular East Coast radio fixture when I was growing up in the 60’s and 70’s.
Stephanie: Which format do you prefer? Print or ebooks?
Rich: I enjoy both, but I’m not a purist. I’m a firm believer that story comes first. I have to admit, though, that an actual paperback still has a more personal meaning to many readers. When my book launched last year, the e-book was released a month before the paperback. I showed my eight year-old nephew the iBook edition. He looked at it, shrugged and said, “Nice, but it’s not a real book.”
Stephanie: Are you a buyer/collector or do you borrow/swap?
Rich: I’m more a buyer/collector.
Stephanie: Rich, it was a pleasure chatting with you today. Is there a message you would like to give to your readers?
Rich: I chose self-publishing for my first novel because I wanted to immediately connect with an audience. I’m gratified and thankful for the feedback, support and encouragement I’ve enjoyed. Especially as a first-time novelist, it’s hard to express how important my readers are to me as I move forward and continue to develop my craft.
Rich Samuels is an Emmy-winning non-fiction producer and editor, and the author of “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain,” a middle grade in ebook and paperback, available at all popular online retailers. His production work has earned three Emmy Awards and recognition at film festivals and competitions worldwide. He’s also a social media enthusiast, and writes about the relationship between traditional and newer media platforms at World according to Rich.
From 2006-2010, Rich served as Director of Production for FreshiFilms LLC, providing guidance and production expertise in the development of commercial, promotional and instructional media for teens, including the DVD series, “Freshi Reel: How to Make Movies,” and a selection across the new media spectrum, including webinars, distance learning, podcasts and video-on-demand.
I wrote my first short story in fourth grade. It was called “The Lost Puppy,” and told the story of a puppy who felt displaced when a kitten joins the household.
Of course, by the end of the two-page tale, the two became fast friends and everyone lived happily ever after. From that point on, I considered myself a writer. By eleven years old, I also considered myself a filmmaker, and decided That’s What I Wanted To Do. I studied filmmaking in college, and set off on a career focused primarily on non-fiction media – producing or editing documentaries, promotional and educational programming.
But I still considered myself a writer. I worked in a creative field, after all, and everything I did was related to storytelling. I still wrote as a hobby, though, creating screenplays and short stories over the years. I won a few awards and recognition for several of my screenplays, and even adapted one or two into short films. My current novel, “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain,” in fact, first came to life as an award-winning screenplay in 2005. It even won best comedy in a scriptwriting competition.
You might assume that I would take that success, and others like it, as motivation to shop the screenplay around Hollywood for a couple of years, just to see what would happen. I didn’t though. As much as I enjoyed writing, the idea of spending years working on a project, and then years more shopping it around, hoping that a publisher or producer might find value, simply held no appeal. I had no interest in being a starving artist.
But now, things have changed. If I want to bring my work to an audience, I can. There are no excuses. Self-publishing has made it possible to reach readers through an international network of online retailers. I am my own gatekeeper. If I create quality content, and can create word-of-mouth marketing to help promote that content, then I have the ability to bring my work to a wide audience. That’s why I finally wrote “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain,” and created RichSamuelsAuthor.com.
Let’s see what happens.
A message from BRAG:
We are delighted that Stephanie has chosen to interview Rich Samuels, who is the author of “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain”, one of our medallion at indieBRAG. To be awarded a B.R.A.G. MedallionTM, a book must receive unanimous approval by a group of our readers. It is a daunting hurdle and it serves to reaffirm that a book such as, “My Life at the Bottom of the Food Chain” merits the investment of a reader’s time and money.